Sat | Apr 17, 2021

US Senate confirms retired general Austin as first Black chief of Pentagon

Published:Friday | January 22, 2021 | 1:07 PM
Secretary of Defense nominee Lloyd Austin, a recently retired Army general, speaks during his conformation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in Washington. (Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool via AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Lloyd J. Austin, a West Point graduate who rose to the Army’s elite ranks and marched through racial barriers in a 41-year career, won Senate confirmation Friday to become the nation’s first Black secretary of defense.

The 93-2 vote gave President Joe Biden his second Cabinet member; Avril Haines was confirmed on Wednesday as the first woman to serve as director of national intelligence.

Biden is expected to win approval for others on his national security team in coming days, including Antony Blinken as secretary of state.

Biden is looking for Austin to restore stability atop the Pentagon, which went through two Senate-confirmed secretaries of defense and four who held the post on an interim basis during the Trump administration. The only senators who voted against Austin were Republicans Mike Lee of Utah and Josh Hawley of Missouri.

Before heading to the Pentagon, Austin wrote on Twitter that he is especially proud to be the first Black secretary of defense. “Let’s get to work,” he wrote.

The Pentagon said that after being sworn in and getting an intelligence briefing, Austin would hold a meeting on COVID-19 with senior civilian and military officials. He also planned to speak by phone with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and to receive briefings about China and the Middle East.

Austin’s confirmation was complicated by his status as a recently retired general. He required a waiver of a legal prohibition on a military officer serving as secretary of defense within seven years of retirement. Austin retired in 2016 after serving as the first Black general to head U.S. Central Command. He was the first Black vice chief of staff of the Army in 2012 and also served as director of the Joint Staff, a behind-the-scenes job that gave him an intimate view of the Pentagon’s inner workings.

Austin, a large man with a booming voice and a tendency to shy from publicity, describes himself as the son of a postal worker and a homemaker from Thomasville, Georgia. He has promised to speak his mind to Congress and to Biden.

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